[Jesus said to the disciples:] 21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Before going into this sermon illustration, I want us to remember something that I mentioned 3 weeks ago when we started covering the Sermon on the Mount: the Sermon on the Mount is political statement, in that it deals with the gospel in tangible, active ways, but is not partisan, meaning that it does not address the world in a black-or-white, Republican-or-Democrat sort of mindset. Okay? Let’s start there. Without going into our political, I want to bring us back to a debate between President Donald Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. As all the debates were during this last campaign cycle, it was very heated. Clinton was pressing Trump on an issue and, before changing subjects, she made an accusation that he paid no income taxes and his response, slipped in before the moderator could ask the question, President Trump said, “That makes me smart.”
Again, I’m not telling this story to get political, but to prove a point: we, as people, love finding loopholes. When people are filing taxes, we are always looking for loopholes. That’s why we pay people to prepare them; so we can get the most money back.
Morally and religiously, we do the same thing. There is always a, “at least I didn’t…” sort of mindset. If I thought something bad, at least I didn’t act on it. If I said something behind their back, at least I didn’t say it to their face. If I said it to their face, well at least I didn’t get violent.
Does this sound familiar? Does this make us uncomfortable? Because it should. This is an issue that we as people will always wrestle with. And all the laws, regulations, and moral or logical reasoning can never change the human heart. We can always find a way to justify ourselves. We can always find a way to demonize another person and, by doing so, make ourselves feel innocent. We all like loopholes and these loopholes break down relationships. We hear of four different ways today where loopholes break down relationships: violence or murder, adultery, divorce, and breaking oaths. All of them break down relationships, regardless of if you do it physically or just in your mind. Jesus, in our teaching is closing the loopholes, and, despite his hyperbole, the answer is not to fix it ourselves by maiming ourselves or by just trying harder. The answer is in the kingdom of God he proclaims. The kingdom of God, he is telling us, builds bridges, not burns them.
Now, if we just look at this passage and our message from Deuteronomy, telling us to choose between life or death, light or darkness, it seems we don’t have a choice. And, in a sense you’re right. We don’t have a choice. We will always struggle with our humanity in this way.
But let’s not think for a moment that that is where the story ends. Because Christ came as a human and, by his humanity, our humanity is redeemed. Let us remember, back when we started the Sermon on the Mount, those little phrases we often call The Beatitudes. They tell us that Jesus has staked his claim with the humble, meek, poor in spirit, peacemakers, merciful, and those hungry and thirsty for righteousness. If you didn’t count yourselves in one of those categories before, after reading our passage today you can now.
You see, Jesus is doing something brilliant here. He is showing us our human nature, holding a mirror up to us, to help us see that we are included in God’s message of grace, freedom, and love. If we take this to heart, if we let Jesus close the loopholes and wrestle with what it means for us, we can see that Jesus can for you, too. Martin Luther taught that there are multiple uses of the law; it’s not just about trying to control our actions, but the law is actually a way that God shows us how much we need grace and forgiveness. Jesus isn’t trying to control our thoughts and behaviors, but is instead showing us that his love is there for us.
Christ is showing us that we are among the lowly and poor in spirit. Christ is showing you that you have a place among the children of God. Some of us have heard that hundreds if not thousands of times, but some of us are starting to just start to comprehend that. You are a child of God. Christ has made that so. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we get a glimpse into God’s sacrificial, unearned love and the eternal life that comes from that love. Through Christ’s healing and teachings, we see that our worth comes not in our ability to justify or heal ourselves, but our worth comes in the love that God pours freely onto all humanity.
And, as response, we pour our love freely onto humanity. We practice the love we receive. We proclaim the good news that we have heard in word and action. We become the body and blood of Christ that we receive at communion. We become salt and light. The love of Christ is made known to the world, not because we are perfect and can live perfect life (Jesus slammed the door on that delusion pretty quickly today), but because Christ is in the work of gathering and sending.
We are gathered and sent. Gathered as sinners, sent as saints. Called and children and sent as proclaimers. Gathered as people who look out for ourselves and sent as people who care for others. Christ has put us on equal footing, and, by doing so, has proclaimed his love for the world, of which you are a part. Gathered in love, sent in love, remember that Christ is with you and calls you blessed. Amen.